Great Oaks has a current enrollment of 236 students, 37% smaller than its authorized enrollment. (Great Oaks Charter School - Wilmington Facebook)

Great Oaks Charter’s low enrollment leads to state review

Jarek Rutz Headlines, Education

Great Oaks has a current enrollment of 236 students, 37% smaller than its authorized enrollment. (Great Oaks Charter School - Wilmington Facebook)

Great Oaks has a current enrollment of 236 students, 37% smaller than its authorized enrollment. (Great Oaks Charter School – Wilmington Facebook)

Concerns about enrollment numbers at Great Oaks Charter School in Wilmington have triggered  a formal review by the Delaware Department of Education.

The school serves eighth through twelfth grade and has a student body of more than 80% Black students.

The review will be conducted by the Charter School Accountability Committee to determine if Great Oaks has violated terms of its charter.  

Its authorized enrollment is 325 students, which means the state is sending money to Great Oaks under the understanding that it is serving that many. Fewer students would mean less funding. 

Great Oaks only has 236 students, 37% fewer students than its authorized enrollment, a state press release said. 

Jim Mazarakis, chair of the Great Oaks School Board, said it was difficult to recruit and maintain students the past couple of years because of the pandemic. 

He points out that Great Oaks is primarily serving minority and underprivileged students, a fact  he hopes the state will take into account. 

Jim Mazarakis, chair of the Great Oaks School Board.

Jim Mazarakis, chair of the Great Oaks School Board.

“We are catering to minority students and many of them are highly mobile, whether that be because their parent or guardian have lost a job or could not afford to stay where they were when they began enrolling with us,” he said. 

The school has lost a number of students because their families moved.

“In addition to having more than 90% minority students, we also have about 30% of special needs students, and we have an excellent staff that is able to cater and help those students,” he said.

Students are typically three or more years behind when they arrive at Great Oaks, he said. 

Mazarakis said some of the low enrollment can be attributed to the residual effects of the school focusing on becoming a high school. 

“This past year, we lost students three different ways,” he said. “We eliminated the seventh grade class, so now it’s eight through 12 since we lost a grade. Then we graduated our first class of 12th graders, so we lost 60 students there.”

Finally, he said, more than 30 students left Great Oaks this year to enroll in a vocational school. 

“So what the board decided to do, in conjunction with the administration, is to add vocational opportunities … so we don’t lose as many students who go down that track,” he said

Although Great Oaks recruited more than 80 new students this year, it was still not enough to reach the enrollment requirement. 

If Great Oaks isn’t shut down, they will almost surely have their state funding reduced, Mazarakis said.

He is hopeful that Great Oaks will continue operating to serve some of Wilmington’s most vulnerable and at-risk students.

“We’re providing opportunities for a segment of the inner-city kids that really need special attention,” he said. “We survive because their families want them to have a different outcome than many people who grew up in their conditions.”

Because Education Secretary Mark Holodick may need to make a recommendation at the end of the formal review process, the Department of Education said it cannot comment on the matter until the review is complete.

Great Oaks is one of  23 charter schools in the First State. It opened its doors to Wilmington in 2015. 

“The ability for us as a charter to survive will depend on two things,” Mazarakis said. “One, the quality of education that we give to the kids, and two, the families believing in us and knowing that we offer a better choice for their particular needs”

The review is a three-month process set to be completed Dec. 15 of this year.

Here’s the timeline of the review for Great Oaks:

  • Oct. 11 – Initial questions and concerns from the Accountability Committee will be sent to Great Oaks.
  • Oct. 18 – From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Cabinet Room of the Education Department in Dover, the committee will meet  and discuss any answers Great Oaks provided.
  •  Oct. 25 – The committee will deliver an initial report to the Education Department.
  • Oct. 27 – At 5 p.m. the committee will hold an initial public hearing at the Carvel State Building in Wilmington.
  • Nov. 9 – The due date for Great Oaks to submit their response to the public hearing and initial meetings. 
  • Nov. 16 Any/all final questions or concerns the committee have must be submitted to Great Oaks. 
  • Nov. 22 – From 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. the committee will have one final private meeting in the Cabinet Room of the Education Department in Dover.
  • Nov. 28 – If a second public hearing is needed, it will take place at 5 p.m. in the Cabinet Room of the Education Department in Dover.
  • Nov. 29 the final Accountability Committee report will be delivered.
  • Dec. 15 – At 5 p.m., a decision will be made and reported to the state Board of Education.

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